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Doctor of Philosophy in Music Theory

The Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies offers the Doctor of Philosophy in Music Theory. Students are admitted to the doctoral program directly from the bachelor's degree program. A Master of Arts degree may be awarded after two years to those students not continuing in the Ph.D. program.

Resources Available to Support The Graduate Programs in Music Theory

The faculty in music theory, numbering ten, are distinguished for their nationally and internationally recognized achievement in research, composition, and performance. Members of the faculty have published pioneering books and papers in the application of literary theory to musical thought, philosophy of music, music gender and sexuality, the pitch structure of twentieth-century music, and the figurative dimension of musical discourse. Current fields of faculty research and specialization, in addition to those mentioned, include analysis of tonal and twentieth-century music, Schenker’s analytical method, performance practice in eighteenth-century music, historical jazz music, popular music, transformational theories, language and music, and the cognition of musical meaning.

How To Apply For Admission

Applications for Fall term admission are due by January 2. Each applicant is asked to submit the following materials in addition to the official application form of the Rackham School of Graduate Studies and official transcripts from each college or university attended:

  • Each applicant who is not a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance must submit his or her scores on the General Test of the Graduate Record Examination. Be certain to take the tests early enough that the scores will reach the University by the deadline for applying for admission or financial aid. Although no minimum cut-off scores have been established, no admission decision will be made until these scores have been received.
  • Submit a sampling of recent research papers, term papers, or publications you have written that relate to music theory.
  • Submit a sampling of voice leading, model composition, or counterpoint exercises.
  • Request recommendations from at least three persons who are able to evaluate your potential for graduate study in music theory. We encourage you to use the online recommendation form.
  • If you have given a recent performance as an instrumentalist, vocalist, or conductor and can provide a recording, please do so.
  • If you have composed a musical work recently, please provide a copy of the score and, if possible, a recording.
  • Submit a document in which you:
    1. Summarize your professional training. Appropriate areas of study include music theory, musicology, composition, performance, and keyboard facility, as well as any other subject in which you have undertaken extensive study.
    2. List the foreign languages you read or speak. In each case, describe your training and level of competence.
    3. List each of your teaching experiences, indicating the subject matter, level, dates of employment, and name of supervisor.
    4. Describe any relevant research or other professional experience which was not part of your academic course work.
    5. Write a statement of not more than 300 words describing your professional goals and explaining your reasons for seeking to pursue graduate work in music theory. This will also serve as the statement requested on the official application form

Each of these materials should be submitted to Associate Dean Steven Whiting. Be certain that each item contains your name and address. An applicant may be asked to come to Ann Arbor for an interview with members of the Graduate Committee in Music Theory. If you wish to elect performance you will be asked to audition when you arrive on campus. Otherwise, no audition is required. All elections in performance are subject to the availability of faculty time.

Financial Aid

  • Among other forms of financial aid, a limited number of graduate student instructorships are available to qualified students in music theory. Any evidence you can provide of unusual skill or experience as a teacher will significantly enhance your prospects for appointment. Such evidence should be communicated directly to Professor Walter Everett, Chair of the Department of Music Theory. If an applicant for admission is also applying for a graduate student assistantship, it is essential that at least one of the three recommendations required for admission be from a person familiar with the applicant's ability as a teacher and, if applicable, a person who has supervised a substantial teaching experience by the applicant.
  • No application for financial aid is considered until the applicant has been admitted as a student. The application for financial aid, together with the required recommendations, transcripts, and GRE scores, must be received not later than January 2.

Degree Requirements

The doctoral program provides specialized training in scholarly method, music theory, and musicology. Students entering without the master's degree in music theory should normally achieve candidacy by the end of the sixth term; those entering with a master's degree in music theory should achieve candidacy by the end of the fourth term.

Program of Study for the First Two Years (for Students Entering without the Master's Degree in Music Theory)

Thirty semester hours beyond the bachelor’s degree are required during the first two years of graduate study. Of the thirty hours, at least 15 hours must be taken in music theory and at least nine in other fields of music. The following courses are required for the M.A.:

  • MHM 501 (Introduction to Graduate Study) or 503 (Bibliography of Music)
  • MT 531 (Schenkerian Theory and Analysis I)
  • MT 532 (Schenkerian Theory and Analysis II)
  • MT 552 (Project in Tonal Composition)
  • Two courses selected from:
    • MT 534 (20th-Century Music: Theory and Analysis II)
    • MT 540 (Species Counterpoint I)
    • MT 560 (Special Studies)
    • MT 805 (Seminar in Music Theory)

In addition, two courses are required in musicology selected from the history of music theory and graduate period survey courses, and six hours are required in a cognate field that is related to a student’s principal topic of study (eight hours when in performance) either in a music field other than music theory or in a field outside music.

A student wishing to be considered for a graduate student instructorship must take MT 590 (Teaching Tonal Theory) or petition for a waiver of this course based on demonstrated competence in teaching. The doctoral pedagogy requirement, however, may not be waived.

Third-Semester Review

During the fall term of the second year of graduate study (the winter term of the first year for students entering with the master's degree in music theory) the student will be expected to pass the qualifying exam. The exam is intended to help students synthesize what they have gained through their coursework. The qualifying exam includes two parts: an oral presentation and an analytical paper. The repertoire for the exam includes one tonal and one 20th-century or 21st-century work.

If a student has not successfully fulfilled the requirements of the third-semester review, but has performed adequately in other respects, he or she will be awarded a terminal master's degree.

Program of Study Beyond the First Two Years, or for Those Admitted with the Master's Degree in Music Theory from Another Institution

The student who receives a master’s degree elsewhere must be able to demonstrate competence or potential in:

  1. Analytical skills for music of various literatures
  2. The history of music theory and musical styles
  3. Bibliography and research techniques
  4. The teaching of music theory

He or she will be evaluated during the second term of residence, assuming the prior degree is approved as relevant to doctoral study. The departmental evaluation is based on coursework completed to date, the qualifying exam, and the student’s prospects for continued success in the field. The department’s judgment is a collective one. If the evaluation is favorable, the student may continue in the Ph.D. program.

It is assumed that most of the following courses will have been taken during the first two years or, for those admitted with a master's degree in music theory, at another institution; courses in this group not taken during the first two years or not taken at another institution must be taken as part of the coursework required for candidacy:

  • MHM 501 (Introduction to Graduate Study) or 503 (Bibliography of Music)
  • MT 531 (Schekerian Theory and Analysis I)
  • MT 532 (Schenkerian Theory and Analysis II)
  • MT 534 (20th-Century Music: Theory and Analysis II)
  • MT 540 (Species Counterpoint I)
  • MT 552 (Project in Tonal Composition)

Requirements in music theory, in addition to the above, are: three terms of Music Theory 805 (Seminar in Music Theory), one or two of which may be applied from earlier study at the University of Michigan; Music Theory 990 (Dissertation/Precandidate); and two music theory electives. Two courses in musicology are also required; these are restricted to period courses at or above 500 or Special Topics courses at or above 500; one must be at the 600 level; these courses may have been taken during coursework for the master's degree.

The requirements also include two approved cognate programs, one of which is normally completed as a requirement for the master's degree. Each cognate consists of six hours in a field that is related to a student's principal topic of study (eight hours when in performance) either in a music field other than music theory or in a field outside music. The two cognates may be in the same field or in different fields.

Each student must acquire advanced reading competence in German or, with the permission of the Graduate Com- mittee in Music Theory, basic reading competence in German and another appropriate language. This competence must be demonstrated through an acceptable proficiency examination or through the successful completion of appropriate courses at the University of Michigan. Students are encouraged to complete the language requirement as early as possible, and, in any event, before taking the oral portion of the major preliminary examination in music theory.


In order to be admitted to candidacy, a student must satisfactorily complete the language requirement, the general preliminary examination in music history, the major preliminary examination in music theory, and all required coursework. The general preliminary examination in Music history, administered by the Department of Musicology, may be taken during any term following completion of the qualifying examination in music theory, but in no case later than the term preceding the major preliminary examination in music theory.

The purpose of the major preliminary examination is to assess the student's capacity to develop and complete an original research project of substantial scope and breadth. The examination is administered by three members of the Music Theory department chosen by the student in consultation with the Graduate Committee; one of these three faculty members serves as the major preliminary examination advisor. In consultation with the advisor, the student develops several possible topics, one of which the examination committee selects and amends for the examination's topic. In the event that none of the topics suggested by the student is satisfactory, the examination committee may simply assign the topic for the examination. The student then develops an extensive reading list of literature related to that topic, which the examination committee amends and approves. Once the topic and reading list have been approved, the student writes a substantial research paper, reviewing drafts with the advisor until the student and advisor agree that the paper is ready to defend. The final draft of the paper, to include an extensive bibliography, is given to all three committee members and an oral examination is scheduled for a date approximately two weeks later. An oral examination is then held, covering the content of the paper and readings in the bibliography. If in the committee's consensus judgment the paper and oral examination demonstrate the requisite capacity for research in music theory, the student passes the major preliminary examination and has thereby satisfied the requirements for candidacy. It is expected that the major preliminary examination will take about four months to complete, and that it will be completed, and candidacy thereby achieved, no later than the sixth term of study for students admitted without a master's degree in music theory, the fourth term of study for students admitted with a master's degree in music theory.

Dissertation and Final Oral Exam

Immediately after achieving candidacy, a dissertation proposal must be developed. The proposal may be, but need not be, based on work completed during the major preliminary examination. The proposal will be a relatively brief prospectus of the dissertation project, including: a statement of the idea or hypothesis to be explored; an outline of the methodology or line of argument to be used; a brief demonstration of the methodology or argument; and a preliminary bibliography of 2-3 pages. An oral defense will be conducted by the Dissertation Committee.

Each student's dissertation research is supervised by a Dissertation Committee. While developing the dissertation proposal, the student should prepare nominations for the Dissertation Committee, in consultation with his or her prospective dissertation advisor and the Graduate Committee in Music Theory, and forward those nominations to Dean Whiting. The prospective dissertation advisor need not be the same person as the advisor of the major preliminary examination. On completion of the dissertation proposal, the Dissertation Committee holds an oral defense of the proposal; in the event that a member of the Dissertation Committee is unable to attend the oral defense, a substitute member may be appointed solely for the purpose of the defense. On successful completion of the oral defense, the student may begin to write the dissertation.

During each term of candidacy each student in residence is expected to enroll in Theory 995 (Dissertation/Candidate) and, at reasonable intervals, to inform each member of the Dissertation Committee of his or her progress. Students who are not in residence while writing their dissertations pursue Detached Study, and should not expect to receive the benefits of an enrolled student, including the use of University resources and faculty advising. When completed, the unbound dissertation will be evaluated by each member of the Dissertation Committee and a final oral examination on the dissertation and related material will be conducted by the Committee according to Graduate School regulations.

Normally the highly qualified student who has made regular progress during his or her course of study is expected to complete and submit the dissertation within ten terms from the beginning of study for the master's degree.

Note. The information given above is intended as a general overview. Specific program requirements are listed on the form "Departmental Recommendation of Doctoral Student for Candidacy." For more information about the doctorate and Rackham master's degrees offered by the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, see the most recent Handbook for Rackham Students in Music, Dance, or Theatre.

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